Wednesday, April 22, 2009


What is there about doing something for a year?
Blog each day and at the end of a year earn a badge—not the kind you pin to a lapel, but one that appears on your blog.

A blatant announcement.

I did it.
I blogged everyday for a year.

But what to write?
"I ate frozen yogurt for the fourth time this week."
"My toothbrush's bristles sag."
"Aunt Zeporah knits long johns."

Is it possible?
Are there bloggers out there who write words, sentences, even paragraphs of worthwhile prose every day? Maybe so.
Does the blogger —the Don Quixote of erstwhile experiences negotiate through perils, wondering if today writer's block will stymie the daily pursuit?

Each 365 represents a challenge.
Post a photo a day for a year.
Write a poem a day for a year.
Does anyone cheat and use previously written poems?
Raise the bar.
Write a sestina one day, a villanelle the next and so on through the myriad forms and then recycle through them again.

Don't forget the Chinese jue ju — only four lines
of five or seven syllables each.
Don't tell a story, create a mood.

I don't know but I expect that there may be 365 forms.

I found a site that lists an astronomy fact for each day. Sometimes it's enough to stare at the stars.

Until I went to the southwest I never stood in awe of the sky. A New England sky, cramped and proper, meanders around fir trees. I couldn't see where it touched down to the earth.

Standing in the desert I watched the sky surround me --an immense shade of cerulean blue and at night darkness as a backdrop for the stars.

A portrait photographer in New York City posted a portrait every day.

I love this: 365 Days Of Trash. “One man's attempt to throw nothing "away" for a year... and beyond.”

He writes, “The idea for this project came about six months ago as I was throwing something away in the garbage. It occurred to me that I was doing nothing more than that. I was making it go away, not dealing with it, not accounting for it, simply removing it from my sight.”

Other bloggers picked up the gauntlet.

In 2006 a cheese aficionado ran a cheese course for a year.

Day 146: “Trentingrana is cousin to Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, a hard grateable cow's milk cheese from Italy…”

Someone in Budapest posts a daily photo of “… the typographical diversity of Budapest’s street numbers.”

365—It’s ...mundane.

Instead I shall read the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century—selected by The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

Yes, I'll read them alphabetically.

First, The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham.

I wonder if the Independent Mystery Writers created a badge for completion —or intends to...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Coming of Age

After indulging myself by reading two coming of age novels in one week, one set in Western Australia and the other in the land of Palestine in 1946, I am adrift in a sea of definitions.

Rites, rituals, elaborate ceremonies and frightening journeys mark the act of separation from childhood. Testing of one's mettle may be required. The experience, often traumatic, at times spiritual, thrusts the individual out of one accustomed place into a larger stage.

In Japan The Coming of Age festival, Seijin no hi, is celebrated on the second Monday of January. If you turned twenty in that year you are one of the celebrants. It is also the year you may vote, drink and smoke—legally.

Did I have a significant coming of age experience? Did I even know that I entered the passageway leaving childhood? Was my entry a slide on a barely perceptible slope and my arrival unheralded by pomp and circumstance? Did I realize that doors close and memory is not an entryway?

No solitary wilderness experience, no confirmation, no sleepless vigils, no organized initiation--

I didn't know the first time I traveled the subway by myself I took a step —in the process of my coming of age. We lived in the Bronx and the IND line and the bus provided a magic carpet away from 176th Street and my apartment building.

My mother’s words, before my first ride unaccompanied by an adult, "Don't use the bathroom in the subway and stay away from the edge."


We loved walking through the entire train by opening up the door of a subway car and moving on to the next car while the train was moving. It wasn't dangerous and there were handrails. Low-level risk. Being a New Yorker meant knowing that skill.

The bathrooms in the subway either smelled of disinfectant or needed disinfectant. I met my first bag lady in the 42nd Street bathroom. She was washing out some stockings in a sink and standing barefoot on the tile floor.

"My son's meeting me for dinner," she explained, "and I didn’t have time to go home. You mind if I wash my feet out in the sink? I stand a lot."

I watched her try and lift her foot to the sink and give up.

"You know," she said, "rich women get pedicures. I got one once."


A cement gully separated my apartment building from the adjacent tenement. Instead of a long grassy plain at the end of the slope, a three-foot flat area abruptly stopped at a fence. When it snowed the gully became our Olympic track. You sat on something slippery and set off down the slope. The trick—jump off before hitting the fence. For several years I watched the older kids and then the year I turned twelve I knew that I couldn’t wait any longer. Annie, my best friend, went down twice before I sat down on a square of corrugated cardboard and stared down the gully. At the end my timing was off and I landed facedown on the ice and grit.

Both my mother and doctor reminded me not to pick at the scabs because I’d have scars. “You did it,” said Annie, “even if your landing hurt.” What hurt was the doctor removing the grit from all the scratches and gashes.


My seventh grade home economics teacher insisted we say a prayer before we ate our home cooked dishes. That was the year I decided that I was an agnostic and therefore I couldn’t say a prayer. Miss Gannon, sister of a priest and a believer in discipline and compliance, called my mother in to school.

“Not only is she disrespectful, but she also smirks.”

I held to my belief in a refusal to say a prayer. My mother asked if my standing politely was acceptable. Miss Gannon, stood her ground. “If she doesn’t participate she doesn’t cook.” For the rest of the year I cleaned the kitchen when everyone else cooked and I never tasted the Welsh Rabbit that made everyone sick.

It didn’t matter that by the eighth grade God was back in my good graces. That year I stood my ground. A step.


This coming of age doesn’t happen quickly even if there is a prepared ceremony. Every change requires a coming of age.


Sometimes the journey is a magical or somber, or hilarious, or a collection of myths.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A Long History

Pundits remind us that violence accompanies weak economic times. In the past week newspaper headlines related the latest killing spree —-thirteen in New York.

We ask why a particular person purposefully created such a carnage.

Lost a job, domestic violence, bullied, or mentally ill.

Too often the perpetrator commits suicide and our questions remain unanswered.

History is the tale of killings-
Nations engage in genocides; neighborhoods in turf wars; countries in expansion.

The history of religion is one smitten with violence.

Ethnic cleansings occur with frequency.

Assassinations, coups—all part of our history. What military arm of a modern country shuns covert killings?

Are we numbed to the killings?

Dylan Thomas said that “After the first death there is no other.”

We can’t become numb. We must celebrate each life.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Perusing books —

Alberto Manquel wrote books devoted to the art of reading—historical panoramas of libraries including his own, the chronology of reading from the earliest pictographs, and diaries of his reading habits. Reading his words and insights about both the writer and the reader reminds me of the task of a reader. Without the reader written words perish, lie fallow. The reader imbues the writing with her own experiences, idiosyncrasies, and peculiarities.

I find myself seesawing between fiction and non-fiction.

It is almost Passover and I am busy putting together a Haggadah, buying matzah, taking out recipes. We will eat matzah for Passover week as a reminder of how quickly the Hebrew people left Egypt — no time to let the bread rise. If you fully observe the holiday all bread and flour products will be removed from your home—even the crumbs.

I read these words in The Same Embrace by Lowenthall.

The scene is a concentration camp at Passover.
"In the dark chill of the barracks the rabbi rose..... He was skinny now, almost too weak to stand.

"Into the dimness he lifted something up. It was a wedge of bread, no bigger than his fist. It was his own stale end of bread, saved from supper. The rabbi held the bread to his face.

This, he said, in what remained of his voice, this that you see. This is matzah."

The written word sizzles on the page. I cry when envisioning the scene. It's a simple scene described in spare language.

There are writers who write for an audience unable to read their words. The reader becomes the voice of the silent ones. Wallace Stevens said, "The word is the making of the world." How can I read without a visceral reaction? Some words force me to make a moral decision.

Jeremiah 23:29 : "Like a hammer, it explodes the stone." The rabbis said this meant that one read and read a text until it gave forth a plentitude of meanings. That is the way to read. Some books require the merest of taps to reveal their meaning while other require persistence and rereading. It is in the rereading that I find the rivers of meaning.

Life, like a story, begins in medias res. To start at the beginning is impossible. The writer knows this and drops the reader down into a stream mid-way between the beginning and the ending.

"He was forty-eight, a fisherman, and he never caught a significant fish."
Barry Hannah "Getting Ready"

"Yesterday afternoon the six-o-clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit"
Truman Capote "Children on Their Birthday"

I am seated at the coffee house writing when I group of six people arrive. This is lunchtime and I assume a prearranged date.

One man is bald, another has a long crew cut, one is losing his hair, another younger man has a beard and shoulder length light brown hair, and one wears his hair parted in the middle. A lone woman with long curly hair says, "Awesome," but I never heard what was awesome. Perhaps I'll write about hair.

Sentences remain in my mind, creating patterns I wander through.

In Gilead, Marilynne Robinson writes, "History could make a stone cry."— an invitation to stop and contemplate history.

I don't need to consider the far removed past; I remain within the last ten years and weep for the ravaged lands, the stony faces of the victims of genocide, the thirst for power that propels men to ignore morality.

A line written by David Berger comes to mind when I think of history: "We cannot allow the trees or even the groves, to persuade us there is no forest."

One line leads to another, permutations of meanings colored by my own experiences, and I travel through a network of thoughts.

The writer lets the reader see a tiny piece of the story; the rest is resting beneath the water. A reader plunges down through the words, through the simple sense and discovers a multitude of meanings. My imagination defines new dimensions—a warren of meanings.

I read somewhere that Miriam Rothchild spent twenty years studying and cataloguing her father's flea collection. Then she produced an illustrated catalogue of that collection.

How many questions remain unanswered. My mind takes on a flurry of activity. Questions tumble about—unanswered save in my imagination. I even want to take a furtive look into her bedroom.

Angelo Manquel in his book The Library at Night says "A study lends its owner, its privileged reader, what Seneca called euthymia, a Greek word which Seneca explained means 'well being of the soul,' and which he translated as 'tranquillitas'. Every study ultimately aspires to euthymia..." Did Miriam Rothchild attain euthymia?

Joan Didion writes: "Certain places seem to exist mainly because someone has written about them."

I love to lose myself in those places.